Protests Continue for 4th Day Over Land Dispute

About 250 villagers protested against development firm Phanimex on Thursday as their commune chief faced questioning in Kandal provincial court over an ongoing land dispute.

For the fourth consecutive day, villagers from Ponhea Leu commune rallied in front of the court, accusing Phanimex of grabbing 63 hectares belonging to 180 families.

The development company last month filed complaints against 12 families for blocking a road and removing demarcation posts, landing those villagers in court for questioning.

More than four hours after Thursday’s protest began at 8 a.m., commune chief Yu Phat and villager Lieng Leng, 37, emerged from the court to shouts of: “Justice for our commune chief!”

Speaking outside the court, Mr. Phat said: “The accusations are not true because my villagers never sold that land to any company.”

Villager Seng Kim Y, 53, whose husband was questioned by the court earlier this week, said her family had been occupying the land since 1980.

“We are the victims, so why is the company filing a complaint against us?” she asked. “I traveled more than 40 km to be here because we want justice.”

Vong Bunvisoth, deputy provincial prosecutor, said the court would continue its investigation.

“We finished questioning today and did not charge anyone yet,” he said. “We will continue questioning more people if we receive a complaint filed by the [plaintiff’s] lawyer.”

Khim Sovannavuth, 49, a major general at the Interior Ministry, was questioned in the court on Monday after Phanimex accused him of selling a parcel of the company’s land earlier this year.

“I support the villagers to demand that land,” he said, adding that he had a land ownership certificate for an 80 meter squared tract of land showing purchased in 1993.

Nou La, a Phanimex representative, said the firm bought the land in question from a private company in 1996 but refused to name the seller.

“It’s the company’s land…. We have 14 land titles [there].”

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